Did the Earth revolve around the Sun? No!
But brilliant mathematician and astronomer Giordano Bruno was saying it did. Not only that. He also said that our solar system was just one of many. Born in Naples, Bruno became a Dominican friar, but his freethinking ideas were not going down too well with the Church. Wisely, he fled Italy and spent many years as a teacher in Geneva and Paris. Unwisely, he decided to go back to Italy when he was 43.
Was Bruno the first person to say the sun was the center of our little universe? Hardly. Was it Copernicus? No, it was actually someone 2,000 years earlier. Anaximander is sometimes called the first Western philosopher. He was born in the city of Miletus (now in Turkey) and grew up to become interested in the order of nature. He established a rational system of inquiry about the forces of nature, believing that opposing forces – wet-dry, hot-cold – constantly struggled against each other. He wrote four treatises: On Nature, The Fixed Stars, The Sphere, and The Description of Earth. Anaximander knew, more than 500 years before Jesus was born, that the earth was a sphere, and that the earth and the other planets rotated around the sun. He also believed in “multiple worlds.”
Bruno was arrested. Even under torture, he refused to recant. After a trial that dragged on for seven years while Bruno was imprisoned, he was ordered to the stake by Pope Clement VIII. The 51-year-old astronomer, with his tongue tied so that he could not speak to the crowd, was burned alive in Campo dei Fiori square in Rome on Feb. 17, 1600. Three decades later, when Galileo, in his 70s, was called before the Inquisition for agreeing with Bruno, he recanted, burned all his books and accepted house arrest for the rest of his life (12 years).
Four hundred years after Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake, in 2,000, Catholic Church Cardinal Angelo Sodano said it was a “sad episode,” but said the Church was right, having an obligation to “promote the common good.” Bruno’s works were banned by the Church until 1966. In 1990, Cardinal Ratzinger, who became Pope Benedict XVI (2005 – abdicated 2013) added that the “verdict against Galileo was rational and just.”